Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Seventh Report

2 Background - Voting by post

Procedure for voting by post in a traditional election

7. To vote by post in a traditional election, an elector must apply in writing, giving certain details including their full name, the address at which they are registered as an elector, the address to which any ballot paper is to be sent, and specifying (if relevant) the election to which the application refers. A ballot paper and a declaration of identity are sent to registered postal voters after 5pm on the eleventh day before the date of poll. The ballot paper, ballot paper envelope and the declaration of identity each bear the same number so that the vote and the voter may be tallied up. The declaration of identity has to be signed by the voter and a witness who knows the elector. The voter then places the ballot paper in the envelope provided and this envelope is placed together with the signed declaration in a second 'covering' envelope and returned to the Returning Officer.

8. Once the Returning Officer receives the covering envelope, it is opened, the declaration of identity is checked for validity, and the number on the declaration of identity is matched to the one on the envelope containing the postal ballot paper. If the numbers tally, the ballot paper envelope is stored, and opened later, under supervision, and placed in the postal ballot box for inclusion in the count, which takes place after the close of poll.

Procedure for voting in an all-postal election pilot

9. In an all-postal election each registered elector automatically receives a ballot paper through the post. Ballot papers are sent out as soon as possible after nominations have closed and the ballot papers have been printed. This is usually about 15 days before the poll. As with traditional elections the ballot paper, ballot paper envelope and declaration of identity (if in use) are numbered identically (or barcoded for increased security) so that the vote and the voter may be tallied up. The Returning Officer's procedure upon receipt of the ballot envelope is the same as that for a traditional election, with the addition, in the June 2004 pilots, that incoming declarations of identity will be scanned (typically on a daily basis) to provide 'polling progress information' for political parties on who has voted.

10. Pilot schemes have enabled Returning Officers to experiment with different security measures. Some pilots, for example, continued to use a traditional declaration of identity, while others used a simpler 'security statement', which did not require a witness to verify the voter's signature. Some dispensed with any form of declaration. Many pilots made provision for delivery points; places where people could either return their postal ballots in person, or fill them out with help from suitably qualified persons. The number and opening hours of these points varied between different pilots.

11. In voting by post the voter takes responsibility for ensuring that they have voted secretly; in contrast to a conventional election where a voter is provided with a place within a polling station to mark their paper in private. Thus although more convenient, postal voting does place increased responsibility upon the voter.   

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Prepared 20 May 2004